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Burnside carbine

The .54 caliber Burnside carbine was designed and patented by Ambrose E. Burnside. This weapon was manufactured in Rhode Island by the Bristol Firearms Company and later, its successor, the Burnside Rifle Company, from about 1857 to 1865. Throughout these years, five different models were manufactured. Lowering the trigger guard, which also served as the operating lever, would cause the breech to tilt up, revealing a cone-shaped cavity. The metallic cartridge for the Burnside, of a unique cone shape, was placed into this cavity. Closing the lever rotated the breech block into position, placing the cartridge in the chamber. A percussion ignition system with an external hammer fired the carbine. A small hole at the base of the cartridge would allow the fire to pass through and ignite the powder in the case.

The Burnside was the third most used carbine utilized by the Union cavalry, exceeded only by the Sharps and Spencer carbines. The most serious complaint about this carbine was the tendency of the cartridge to stick in the breech once it was fired.

Division of the History of Technology, Armed Forces History
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Behring Center
Transfer from the U.S. War Department


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